Returning to Live in the South 1
(translated by William P. Coleman)
Young, the rhythm of the crowd didn’t suit me;
my nature originally loved hills, mountains.
By mistake, I fell into a dusty net,
and that way 13 years went by.
A caged bird longs for his old trees;
A pond fish longs for water.
I’ve opened barren ground at the south field’s border,
and, simpleminded again, returned to the garden farm.
Surrounding the house is perhaps an acre and a half;
it’s a thatched house, 8 or 9 spans in size.
Elms and willows make shade behind the eaves;
peach and plum trees line up in front of the hall.
Dim, distant are the people in their village,
their chimneys give up thin smoke to dilute in the air.
Dogs bark in the backs of alleys —
A rooster fusses at the top of a mulberry tree.
My house’s yard has no dust of confusion;
its bare rooms remain at leisure.
For a long time I was in the interior of a cage,
now I return again to what’s real.
I found the Chinese text and an English translation of this poem — along with the word-by-word literal translation I used to create this one — at Chinese Poems.
Similar resources are on pp. 164-5 of Wai-Lim Yip’s book Chinese Poetry: an Anthology of Major Modes and Genres, Duke University Press, 1997; ISBN 0-8223-1946-2.
There is an English translation on pages 129-30 of Watson, Burton. The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. ISBN 0-231-05683-4.
And on page 33 of Rexroth, Kenneth. One Hundred More Poems from the Chinese. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1970. ISBN 0-8112-0179-1.
Kenneth Rexroth’s translation is also on page 25 of Weinberger, Eliot. The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004. ISBN 0-8112-1605-5.
Also pages 75-6 of Barnstone, Tony and Chou Ping. The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry. Garden City: Anchor, 2005. ISBN 0-385-72198-6.
On pages 105-6 of Waley, Arthur. Chinese Poems. New York: Dover Publications, 2000. ISBN 0-486-41102-8.
The grammar of Chinese allows poets to leave interpretive choices open, and it’s an unattainable ideal of translating to bring out possibilities without closing others. I try to use my sense of English to at least intrigue you. If I’ve succeeded, it’s best — even if you don’t know Chinese, which I don’t either — to follow up at the source I cite above and see the original word-by-word translation from which I worked. It’ll be richer than what I’ve given you. To understand the poem best, try to construct your own translation.